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Now that league finds Jaguars game-winning FG was in error, what happens next?

The Jaguars, in a mad scramble down by a point, were able to get to the line quickly and snap the ball before the expiration of the fourth quarter. While Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil pulled on Bortles’s facemask, drawing the 15-yard foul. (More on the enforcement in our quick calls.) This gave the Jaguars an untimed down, which they used to kick the game-winning field goal.

The play with the sack, however, should have been blown dead.

In the rush to get to the line, the offense is still required to be set for one second, just as any other part of the game. It is an illegal shift if they are not simultaneously set, or if, after setting at least two players move and don’t re-set. However, illegal shifts in the last minute of either half with the clock running, are converted to false starts.

NFL spokesman Michael Signora released a statement that the Jaguars were not set prior to the snap:

Inside of one minute remaining of either half, with the game clock running, when the offense is not set simultaneously prior to the snap, it’s a false start. This results in a 10-second runoff, which can only be avoided if a team has a timeout remaining. The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play. The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game.

The final result, despite the admission of error, cannot be changed. (Although the play never would have happened, if Dumervil committed the facemask after the whistle, the fouls would offset, and an untimed down from the previous line of scrimmage would be run.)

The video does show that there are offensive lineman still lowering in their posture at the snap, even though they are maintaining their stance, so the false start, indeed, should have been called. Yes, there was chaos, but the crew was responsible for shutting this play down.

The responsibility for the false start call rests on the four upfield officials: referee Pete Morelli, umpire Ruben Fowler, head linesman Ed Camp, and line judge Sarah Thomas. Morelli has been a stalwart of crew management and consistently receives playoff assignments. When Thomas was hired as the first permanent female official in the NFL, I was certain she was going to draw Morelli’s crew, because his business-like approach would not make her the “first,” but one of 122.

Also on Morelli’s crew is Rob Vernatchi, who did not notice the clock operator ran 13 seconds off the clock in a game last month. Vernatchi was suspended for a game for the incident — the league did not call it that, but it certainly was. Although Vernatchi did have responsibility for the clock, there are these factors that made the leap to an unprecedented suspension unusual:

  • Vernatchi did not make the error, but he did not detect someone else’s error
  • The Steelers ran two plays after the clock error into the two-minute warning. Assuming the same plays are run, the clock still would count to 2:00 after two plays.
  • As an administrative matter that officials sometimes get outside help on, Vernatchi did not get assistance
  • The error was not detected by anyone on the crew
  • The clock operator could have just reset to the proper time, as standard operating procedure is to log every stoppage time; or at least notified the field of an issue

Vernatchi was suspended with pay, likely to head off an appeal by the referees union.     If Dean Blandino, as the VP of officiating, decides the clock issue was a suspendable offense, the natural question is will he do the same with the false start?

The answer is probably a qualified “no,” because the suspension apparently was ordered from above Blandino’s head.

Troy Vincent — the former cornerback and players union executive — assumed the mantel of the NFL’s second-in-command in 2014 when he succeeded Ray Anderson as the Executive Vice-President of Football Operations. Under Anderson, the officiating department was parked under the overarching umbrella of Football Operations, rather than left as an autonomous department firewalled against the business interests that are, in a technical sense, the one true duty of the commissioner. During his Vincent’s tenure, he has intensified the hands-on approach of the position and seems to have more of an influence on the product than the commissioner. He launched the Football Ops website that reads more like a vanity project than anything, and he has a heavily polished, overly wordsmithed Twitter account that heaps praise on the department, engages in fluff Q&A with former players, and quotes Bible passages. Replay was rebranded NFL Vision Instant Replay, complete with embroidered polo shirts.

While putting his personal imprint on Football Operations, two sources tell Football Zebras that Vincent was responsible for the decision to suspend Vernatchi. While fines are assessed for rare errors in game administration, Vernatchi’s offense was worthy of a suspension in Vincent’s opinion. This does not mean that errors should not face repercussions, but it is hard to see how suspending an official improves officiating. It is, in the words of former referee Scott Green, “arbitrary punishment of an individual for a fast public-relations fix.”

And now, the die has been cast. Vernatchi’s oversight wound up being absorbed into the regular gameplay as a nonfactor, for which he was suspended. Unlike the clock error, the false start directly affected the win/loss result of the game, and this time four officials are involved. Vincent has a decision to make: the optics are terrible if the first female official is suspended halfway through her first season. And, it is a double standard if he does not.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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10 thoughts on “Now that league finds Jaguars game-winning FG was in error, what happens next?

  1. Way to go off on a tangent on the Vernatchi suspension. But I think your conclusion is wrong. As you said yourself, the penalties would offset and the Jaguars would still get an untimed down. It is a big leap to say the officials have a duty to blow the whistle quickly enough and loud enough to stop a player from grabbing another’s facemask. No matter when the whistle comes, it is the player’s responsibility to not go grabbing facemasks, and having violated that rule, his team suffered the penalty.

  2. This is a simple call can’t be missed. It’s the 1st thing you teach a new official. Throw flag and kill the clock. No way the play should be continued and possibility of penalties offset. It’s not a judgement call like a DPI or a Hold. 4 Covering officials and no one noticed!!!!!!!! SMH

  3. Sarah Thomas ISN’T the first female NFL official. Shannon Eastin worked 4 games in 2012 during the officials lockout.

    You’ll remember that the lockout ended when a replacement crew (not Eastin) called a play by the letter of the rulebook rather than by the mechanic the officials use instead.

    In a sense, Eastin has been “suspended” since 2012 for a play she had nothing to do with. Suspending Thomas would only be unprecedented in the sense that it’s the first time a female official has been suspended for a call that she is partially responsible for getting wrong.

    I get why you’re crapping on Vincent. I do, because I root for the Jets and go on Jets websites and crap on Tom Brady. I root for the green and white team on Sunday, while you root for the black and white team.

    The fact is, this is a serious error, it’s not a judgement call, and it’s going to affect the standings.

    Not suspending Thomas and the others because of “bad optics” of suspending a woman IGNORES the fact that we’re in this mess in the first place because the crew missed the call. The optics of not trying to fix officiating are even worse.

    It’s interesting that you post the Scott Green article and ignore the solution he proposes. Green wants Blandino and the League Office to expand their efforts in trying to use video to fix bad calls that are officially non-reviewable. This site is against that because it “slows the game down” and “takes away from the officials’ judgement.”

    Your post is just “Don’t suspend the people because Thomas is a woman.” Vincent has one solution. Green has another solution. If you guys are against both of their solutions, what’s your solution?

  4. The point about Thomas’s milestone was already covered with the use of the word “permanent.” And I highly disagree with your assessment of the Fail Mary play being by the letter of the rulebook. It was not ruled properly and the mechanics were all wrong (ie, the lack of discussion before signaling).

    I never said Thomas is our should be immune from suspension. Rather, because the suspension hammer has been wielded, it would be inconsistent not use it.

  5. Ben…you have a mistake. If the false start had been called but the personal foul had been committed, then under the 5 and 15 rule, wouldn’t the 5 yard pejalty be ignored and the 15 yard personal foul applied…not really a dead ball foul as if the whistle is blown and the snap is ruled before clock runs out, well it’s an interesting situation. I think in this case, you would have to enforce 15 yard pf so result would be the same. Now the question of course is if they had ruled the clock had run out then it might have been a dead ball foul after the end of the game and since there is no further kick off, the penalthy will be ignored. It is very interesting. But there is a solution which some might consider a radical change in football although I think it was once a rule in Canadian Football. If the neutral zone is established before the expiration of time in a half, the team can run a play if it so desires. That would end this crazy runs up to the line with everybody out of position. Also to help determine if the clock has run out, the clock display should be in tenths of a second in the last 2 minutes a la the NHL and NBA. This is not a change. With today’s electronic scoreboards, games are timed in hundredths of a second anyway. It’s just the display that is being chsnged. And calls like this at the end of the game should be reviewable.

  6. I honestly don’t care whether or not anyone is suspended. I’m more concerned whether or not anyone from Morelli’s crew (including Morelli himself) gets a playoff assignment because if anyone gets on the field in January, it’ll be a real FlusterCuck waiting to happen.

  7. 5 vs. 15 enforcement applies if the minor infraction is a “simple 5.” Since the false start has a run-10, it is no longer a simple 5.

    IF there is a situation where a 5 vs 15 is enforced (let’s say the same play with an illegal formation plus the facemask), as long as the defensive facemask is a live-ball foul, the quarter is extended. If the defensive foul that is enforced occurs in the dead-ball period, or if the 15 belongs to the offense, the half is over.

  8. Absolutely suspend them. Make it as public as the criticism coaches and players receive for their performance as they routinely get lambasted in the media, benched, waived, or fired. A couple of years ago in a late season game in Green Bay, the officials erred in the process of spotting the ball costing the Packers one last play from inside the 10 yard line. The local media reported on it by saying, “it was only one play and there was no guarantee the Packers would score.” Imagine if the head coach screwed up clock management and as a result cost his team a play at the end of the game. I doubt the media would let him off the hook so easily. I am amazed that this is not more of a talking point this week. It doesn’t matter about team records. The fans and players were cheated. I am tired of the free pass and lack of accountability to fans in regards to the officials. Suspend them and make sure it is reported as such.

  9. This would be a tough call to make . I know a handful of people that had to watch the play 4-5 times in slow motion to even see who was not set.
    If sarah gets penalized it kinda sucks to be on the other wing and have to take the wrap for not fishing in the other officials pond. That’s a recipe for diaster.

    Its a shame that this play is being talked about being a very tough to see no call.
    But no one is talking about the Brian Walters obvious catch , not getting called rite even after being reviewed . Or the holding call we had , i think it was on mercedes lewis on a play where he just has a super clean , blow some one up -type block.
    there was several more horrible calls. This whole game felt like the jaguars were just constant victims of bad calls. This game shouldn’t of even been close.

  10. The timing issue was a big mistake. Possibly understandable, but still a failure of mechanics. This error was just a garden variety missed call where the zebras did not see what happened.

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